Big Fire Caused by City’s Neglect

Grants Pass had a big “brush fire” right off one of its main drags, 7th Street, last week, with flames up to 75 feet tall. It burned about 3 acres before being brought under control by means normally used on forest fires: a helicopter with a water bucket. We may never know what sparked the blaze, but it is obvious what caused the property to burn: non-enforcement of our nuisance code and poor enforcement of our safety hazard code.

As the fire was being put out, one could see 3-4 foot tall dry weeds beyond the fences of threatened 7th Street businesses. The property behind them has been neglected and allowed to become a fire hazard.

Enforcing our nuisance code, which forbids allowing weeds to mature or go to seed, would prevent any fire hazard from developing. But that provision has been unenforced for at least two decades. Our safety code calls for abatement of properties that become a safety hazard. A decade ago, firemen made sure that weeds were at least cut before Memorial Day, but that job was given to Community Service Officers a few years ago, and they only respond to complaints. With zero enforcement against mature and seeding weeds, there are too few CSOs to keep up with the resulting safety hazards, even if they enforced against them on sight.

City management and police say that police are too highly trained and paid to enforce nuisance codes. But enforcing the laws, even city ordinances, is the job of police. They say that they have to prioritize to enforcing against real crime. Allowing one’s property to become a nuisance or a safety hazard to one’s neighbors is a real crime; that’s why we wrote laws to prevent it. They say people should talk to their neighbors. The Courier ran a story on August 9th, “Authorities still ponder reasons for Ohio killings,” that illustrated how dangerous asking one’s neighbor to clean up his property can be; a man killed seven people, including his neighbors, when they asked him to clean his place up. Such dangerous work is a job for police.

Grants Pass is the seat of Josephine County. This Board has an interest in preventing safety hazards within the city as well as without. We now have more fire prevention in our forests these days than we do in town. Thus we have a brush fire in town, right off the main drag. Please talk to the City about using police to enforce all of its nuisance code, and abating the hazards that have resulted from its non-enforcement.

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